Lenten Lunch- Cleveland FUMC

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Mark’s gospel gives us the Cliff’s Notes version of Lent. I was just sharing this past Sunday how he breaks everything down into just 7 verses, and somehow fits Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness into just 3 of those. In contrast to the other gospel accounts, Mark leaves a lot to the imagination. We know that Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Spirit, is tempted by Satan, accompanied by wild beasts (yikes) and waited on by angels.
That’s it. That’s all we get in Mark. Three statements and we are done. We have barely taken a breath and in Mark’s account, it’s already over. Admittedly, this past Sunday I focused a lot on what we don’t get from reading Mark’s account of the wilderness. So many things left to our imaginations. What does the imagery of wilderness really mean?
The wilderness is not an environment of our own choosing. It is a downright struggle. It is a place of being exposed and defenseless, thus creating loads of opportunity to accept whatever tempting offer comes our way. Maybe it is a place where we feel surrounded by our enemies. Barbara Brown Taylor says it’s a place we didn’t choose, a place we wouldn’t have gone on our own, and we aren’t in control.
This is not a retreat center with a scenic view. This is not a cup of coffee and quiet time with God. This is isolation, temptation, and wild animals. It’s a nightmare that you can’t wake up from.
But Satan and the wild beasts weren’t the only ones in Jesus’ wilderness. First of all, Jesus had just been anointed by and filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ identity had just been spoken over him as the beloved Son of God. Second of all, it says that the angels waited on him. Aside from Satan and the wild beasts, there were angels that waited on him. What does that even mean?
This verse is translated in several different ways.
The NIV says that angels attended him. The ESV says angels were ministering to him. The CSB says angels were serving him. The NLT says angels took care of him.
What did this care look like? Did these angels bring food to Jesus? Did they mend any wounds? Did they protect him in some way?
The Greek word is diakoneia; from which comes our word “deacon.” This is one who serves as an intermediary or a go-between. It is one who serves and provides care, sometimes in the form of table service or hosting.
Angels in the wilderness. Serving. Hosting. Tending. Caring for Jesus. While Mark seems to have left off lots of other details, he includes angels in the wilderness. Matthew includes this too at the very end of the scene, but doesn’t give us much more information.
What difference does it make? What difference does it make to have an angel in the wilderness?
A while back I found myself in a wilderness season of my own. And all of my usual tricks to pull myself back up again seemed to come up short. It was a time of deep loneliness. There was such a temptation to leave ministry before I had really even started. Some tried to convince me to get out or to take a different path.
But praise God for angels in the wilderness. They came in the voice of my mom on the other end of the phone. The text message of a friend. A hug. A gift. A thousand little notes scribbled down and left for me, saying things like “the world needs more of you in it,” and “God has this! I know because I have discussed it with Him.” Another said “you are called. You are Light. You are worthy.” And another- “you are stronger than you think.”
I remember those who showed up. Who has shown up for you? Who has ministered to you in the midst of a hard and vulnerable season of life? Who came alongside you and whispered to you, “you are stronger than you think.”
Rev. Talitha Arnold says “Our wilderness angels probably don't look like we think angels should. No long white robes, no rustling wings. Instead they may resemble the middle-school teacher who believed in us when we couldn't believe in ourselves. Or the coach who gave us a chance to play, even if we weren't very good. Maybe one of your angels is a colleague who had your back during a rough time at work or a friend who listened to your fears and grief after a relationship ended.” I have watched everyday angels care for friends with cancer, spouses with Alzheimer’s, family members in behavioral health, and strangers in jail. People who walk with us in the wilderness. Maybe you have even had the opportunity to walk with another in theirs.
Talitha says “sometimes our wilderness angels are the people who accept our apologies when we've hurt them or others, the people who remind us through their forgiveness that, in the words of William Sloan Coffin, there "is more grace in God than sin in us."
Stronger than you think. We can feel anything but sometimes. In the space of our deepest temptations and fragile vulnerabilities, it isn’t our superhuman strength or our best behavior that gets us through. It is the strength of Christ.
In the gospel accounts, the temptation of Jesus is always immediately followed by the start of Jesus’s ministry. I think I used to imagine Jesus returning from the wilderness and beginning his ministry all bright and ready to begin with this strong voice saying “repent, and believe in the gospel.”
But this year something else came to mind. Jesus fresh from the wilderness. After the temptation. After being exposed to the elements for 40 days. After being exhausted and starving. I imagine that Jesus filled with the Spirit saying to repent and believe, that the kingdom of God is at hand. That is an altogether different image. Henri Nouwen calls this the “poor and powerless Jesus.”
The enemy thought the wilderness would be the end, but in the power of the Spirit, it was only the beginning. All attempts to weaken Christ only proved to prepare Him for his message.
And it says angels waited on him. Did they say anything to Jesus? Did they echo the refrain that God had already proclaimed at his baptism- You are God’s beloved Son. Remember who you are.
Esther Hisza shares a “Blessing for When You’re In the Wilderness.”
She says:
On the day the Spirit leads you into the wilderness, may you know it was a Friend that led you there and that Friend hasn’t left your side for a minute.
On the day, you would turn those stones into bread, if you could– raise the dead, open blind eyes, wake up the world, lift the dark, end the war– and you are tempted to despair, may those stones become a seat, a pillow, an altar.
On the day, you are visited by your irrelevance, aloneness, powerlessness, limitations or longings, may you be ministered to by angels.
In your wilderness, may you remember who and whose you are. May you be strengthened by the power of the Spirit in your weakness. And may you be ministered to by angels.
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